An Open Letter to Ben Carson: How to Solve the Housing Crisis

Dear Ben,I hope you will read this and take it on advisement, as it is written with sincerity and from someone who has struggled with a subject you are about to confront: the challenges of the American housing system. Perhaps you are thinking, well, at least it's not brain surgery — something at which you are expert — and in that I would agree. It is far, far more difficult. I do not mean to be facetious; I presume there have been considerable developments in neurosurgery over the last fifty years. Our housing situation, on the other hand, seems only to have gotten worse.Lest you think this is principally a story about African-American poverty, let me correct you. The majority of Americans in subsidized housing are white and elderly. Housing is an everyone problem. It is not for lack of spending. Americans devote a lot of money to subsidize housing, but the money doesn't go where you might think it goes — to the people who need it most. If you have a home worth more than $250,000, you receive a bigger subsidy, through the mortgage interest deduction on your federal income tax, than anyone living in low-income subsidized housing. We spend $120 billion annually on tax subsidies for homeowners. You will notice that your entire budget at HUD is somewhere around $45 billion. Our priorities are, shall we say, misaligned. That imbalance means that your budget isn't large enough to adequately cover your expenses. For instance, your current backlog for capital improvements in 1.1 million public housing apartments is about $30 billion. Your annual allocation for those improvements is, roughly, $3 billion. If you think, fine, in ten years we'll be caught up, think again, because deterioration, as any homeowner can tell you, is an ongoing, never-ending process. Every year, another $3 billion (more, actually) is added to your total. So at best, the system is treading water. But that's not really a good analogy, because you can't tread water if your head is submerged so deeply you can't even see the surface.  Continue reading...

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